Iowa working to develop depth at wide receiver

The Hawkeyes are looking forward to a season with more depth at wide receiver than in previous years.

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Iowa working to develop depth at wide receiver

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette breaks a tackle during the Outback Bowl game between Iowa and Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs 27-22.

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette breaks a tackle during the Outback Bowl game between Iowa and Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs 27-22.

Nick Rohlman

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette breaks a tackle during the Outback Bowl game between Iowa and Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs 27-22.

Nick Rohlman

Nick Rohlman

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette breaks a tackle during the Outback Bowl game between Iowa and Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs 27-22.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

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Just two years ago, Iowa entered a season in which only one wide receiver had caught a pass for the Black and Gold.

Iowa found little depth behind Matt VandeBerg. Nick Easley hadn’t played at the Division-1 level, and Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith were only freshmen.

Now, heading into the 2019 season, the Hawkeyes boast far more depth than they had back then.

Smith and Smith-Marsette will be focal points this year after Iowa lost Easley, who led the team with 52 receptions last season.

Both posted solid seasons as the fourth and fifth options in the air attack. Smith hauled in 28 passes for 361 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Smith-Marsette recorded 23 catches for another 361 yards and 3 scores.

The two enter the season as the team’s leading returning receivers, and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz will want to get the ball in their hands.

Smith serves as an athletic monster who can make difficult catches look easy in one-on-one situations. Smith-Marsette is a speedy playmaker who makes things happen with a little open space.

Named a second-team preseason All-American as a return specialist by Phil Steele, Smith-Marsette also ran the ball 9 times for 71 yards last season, showing Ferentz trusts his playmaking abilities.

The arrival of tranfer Oliver Martin, however, takes the pressure off them — especially if he plays this season.

RELATED: Hawkeye football officially adds three wide receivers

Martin’s journey to Kinnick Stadium was a long one, but in the end, the Hawkeyes snagged who they wanted.

After redshirting for a year at Michigan, Martin caught 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown.

Ever since his days at Iowa City West, when he was ranked the seventh-best wide receiver prospect in the nation, he has been known as a precise route runner with decent speed and exceptional ball skills.

Although he didn’t spend much time in the Maize and Blue, his skills alone will help Iowa when his time on the field comes.

Charlie Jones and Jack Combs are in the same boat. Both transfers, they will also give Iowa more depth when eligible, which is certainly a good thing for the Hawkeyes.

Jones hauled in 18 passes for 395 yards and 3 touchdowns last season, and Combs caught 3 passes for 27 yards and a score.

The Hawkeyes also have Tyrone Tracy, Nico Ragaini, and Max Cooper on the roster.

Tracy and Ragaini were listed as backups to Smith and Smith-Marsette at the beginning of spring practice. With spring ball wrapped up, they seem to be in the running for solid playing time.

Neither one has substantial experience, though. Cooper recorded 3 receptions for 15 yards in 2018, Tracy had 1 catch for 22 yards, and Ragaini also caught 1 pass for 7 yards.

The potential is there, however.

A clear problem arose in April when Easley, Noah Fant, and T.J. Hockenson — Iowa’s three top pass-catchers — moved on to the next level.

But with only a couple months until the season begins, Iowa may not be in bad shape on the receiving front.